Teller’s retirement marks end of an era at local bank

December 15, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

By Greg Farrar Karen Peterson, bank teller at the Bank of America branch on Front Street (right), takes a deposit from one of her longtime customers, Al Erickson.

Karen Peterson, bank teller at the Bank of America branch on Front Street (right), takes a deposit from one of her longtime customers, Al Erickson. By Greg Farrar

A big smile and a wave from behind the counter is how Karen Peterson, 60, has been greeting Issaquah residents at her bank for 42 years.

The exchange is usually immediately followed up with something like, “Hi, Al, how’s it going?” or “Hi Susan, it’s been so long. How’s your father doing?”

In a world of online banking, ATM machines and computers, it’s not often you enter a bank and the teller knows your name, said Paul Mills, manager of Issaquah’s Bank of America on Front Street North.

“It is so unusual to have someone with this amount of tenure and even more so to have stayed in one place,” he said. “She is a rock.”

Peterson is a banker from another era and it’s coming to an end as she greets customers in the bank one last day, Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, she retires.

“I can’t wait to be able to go to the ocean and be able to say, ‘Yeah, let’s go. Or no, let’s head back Tuesday or Wednesday,’ since I won’t have to worry about work on Mondays or Saturdays anymore,” she said.

Al Erickson, a retired Issaquah city parks department employee, stopped by the bank Dec. 10 to make a deposit.

“I opened my account when I was 7 at the SeaFirst Bank,” he said. “That was about 50 years ago and I’ve been coming back since. Karen is part of that.”

Obviously, there are some big shoes to fill.

“She is a great example for all of us,” teller Mary Ellen Houston said. “She was born and raised here, so she really knows everyone and has the same values as the people that live here.

“She is friends with the clients, calls everyone by name and nothing ever ruffles her feathers.”

“I started in 1989 as a trainee and Karen is the one that trained me,” Mills said. “Karen has always provided such a nice consistency.

“She has always been very exacting and has always done things the right way,” he added. “Her philosophy is really, ‘This is other people’s money and the bank’s and we have to do it right.’”

Aside, from being a mentor, trainer and auditor, Mills said, he is most fortunate to have become friends with Peterson.

“I count myself lucky to be her and her husband’s friend,” he said. “It’s nice when you can work with your friends.”

But community members are happy for her.

“Karen has been a wonderful teller and these have been wonderful years at this bank. The best 42 years, though, have been since Karen has been here,” Erickson said. “But I’m happy for her, because I know she’s retiring and I know she will enjoy it.”

Aside from accompanying her husband to the ocean and an R.V. trip across the county, Peterson said she is also going to keep busy planning her 32-year-old daughter’s wedding. After that, she said, she’ll be waiting to spoil her two daughters’ children, when they’re ready to have them. Her youngest daughter is 29.

The bank’s employees are hosting a public reception to honor Peterson and they’re hoping former classmates, customers and employees come.

“Everyone knows our branch because Karen works here,” Houston said. “She’s really something. You know, she has opened kids’ savings accounts and now they come in and they have kids of their own. She really has so much history here. She’s one of the people I personally look up to.”

“Really, it’s good news for her, bad news for us,” Mills said. “But we want to send her off right and we’re hoping her customers will, too.”

If you go

Karen Peterson’s retirement reception

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Dec. 31

Bank of America

665 Front St. N.

Any and all customers, friends and former employees are welcome to swing by, grab refreshments and wish Peterson well.

Q and A

Q: What was different about banking when you started in 1967, versus today’s banking models?

A: The biggest difference in banking from 1967 versus today is the advent of the computer. Also, key differences are the amount of competition and customer-service issues.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about your job in the past 42 years? Why?

A: The most enjoyable part of the last 42 years has been the friendships formed with both co-workers and customers. They last a lifetime.

Q: What is the weirdest situation you’ve ever come across or had to deal with?

A: One weird thing that happened was when an Elvis impersonator came in, and when done with his transaction said — just like Elvis — ‘Thank you. Thank you very much.’ We got a chuckle out of that.

Q: What has been your best experience at the bank?

A: My best experience over the last 42 years is my personal growth. I came in as a very shy 18-year-old. Today, I feel good about myself and all I have accomplished by doing my best. And, along the way, I made a lot of people happy.

Q: If you couldn’t work at the bank, what job would you have liked to do?

A: I would have liked to work with animals. Who knows — maybe be a veterinarian.

Q: What will you miss most about going to work each day?

A: I will miss the social aspect of my job and, of course, my paycheck.

Q: What are you most looking forward to Jan. 1?

A: I’m looking forward to going clam digging at Ocean Shores without worrying about hurrying home Sunday because I have to work Monday. Now, every day is Sunday!

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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